Abortion opponents in Arkansas are hailing this week as important progress toward their goal of restricting women’s reproductive rights after several anti-choice measures advanced in the legislature. An unconstitutional “fetal heartbeat” ban to outlaw abortion as early as six weeks passed the Senate by a 26-8 vote, and two other restrictions — one to block health insurance coverage for abortion services, and one to ban late-term abortions without even the narrowest exceptions in the cases of rape and incest — also passed a House health committee.
The fetal heartbeat bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jason Rapert (R), says he feels it’s his “moral obligation” to ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected — even though the only way to detect a heartbeat at such an early stage of pregnancy is to use a vaginal probe. “Can you imagine what kind of feeling that would cause when inserted into a woman?” State Sen. Stephanie Flowers (D), an opponent of the measure, asked Rapert on the Senate floor. Rapert admitted that he did not.
If Arkansas’ heartbeat ban passes, it will represent the most stringent abortion restriction in the nation. It will also stand in direct opposition to women’s constitutional right to abortion under Roe v. Wade. An attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union has already informed Arkansas’ senators that the group will sue if the state enacts such a restriction.
Now that Republicans control Arkansas’ General Assembly, anti-abortion groups believe these new measures actually have a chance of becoming law — especially because, since the Democratic governor has signed several abortion restrictions before, there’s no guarantee that Beebe will veto these bills. In fact, the governor has indicated that he’s at least considering the merits of the proposed fetal heartbeat ban. Beebe told reporters on Thursday that he will look into the constitutionality of measure. “I’m waiting on lawyers. I think that’s the big concern right now — does it run afoul of the Supreme Court or constitutional restrictions?” Beebe said. “That’s the first thing we’re looking at.”
And despite what Beebe ends up deciding, anti-abortion groups are already celebrating a victory in Arkansas, since the votes on Thursday represent their biggest gains in years. “I think a lot of people are beginning to understand that the people of Arkansas by and large are pro-life and you’re seeing that reflected in how people vote here,” said Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council, told the Associated Press.